Over the span of six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, we begin the final week of previews with the Boston Bruins…
The last two years have been a lesson in frustration for the Boston Bruins. They closed out the 2014-15 campaign with three straight losses, and promptly missed out on the playoffs by two points. Last year, they dropped three of their last four contests, and failed to qualify for the postseason because of a tiebreaker.
In the process, they helped the Detroit Red Wings extend their 25-year playoff streak… but that obviously doesn’t do much for Boston. The Bruins were a postseason staple there for awhile, making seven straight appearances, losing in the Stanley Cup Final to Chicago in 2013 and winning it all back in 2011. Now they’re a cautionary tale of how quickly a successful group can be dismantled in the Salary Cap Era.
That’s not to say a return to the playoffs is out of the question in 2017 though. There’s still significant talent on this roster, and the Atlantic Division is relatively wide open behind Tampa Bay. But Claude Julien’s squad will need a lot of things to go their way — up to and including a strong finish to the regular season.
Can they get Tuukka Rask back on track?
Rask made a strong push for the Vezina in 2013, then went out and won it with an even better performance 12 months later. His goals against average was hovering just over 2.00 for those two years, and his save percentage sat at an impressive 0.930. Considering he was just coming out of his mid-20’s at the time, the future seemed extremely bright for Boston in net.
Problem is, the Bruins have really leaned on their netminder heavily recently — and he seems to be feeling the effects.
Over the last two years, Rask has appeared in a ridiculous 134 games, and his numbers have suffered as a result. While the front office has been forced to jettison a few valuable skaters in front of him because of cap concerns, he hasn’t been able to steal games for them like he was a couple years ago. That has set the stage for disappointing endings to the last two seasons.
Getting back to the playoffs means getting Rask right again. And while that primarily starts with him, the guys in front of him — particularly on that blue line — can certainly help the cause as well.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
David Backes (from STL)
Depending how the rest of the lineup shakes out, the Bruins may actually use Backes on the wing instead of up the middle. Either way, the former captain of the Blues brings leadership to a locker room that already features the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Not to mention a strong physical presence that tends to go over well in Boston, and a career average of just over 23 goals per 82 games.
Malcolm Subban (drafted: No. 24 overall in 2012)
Goalies don’t get drafted in the first round too often anymore, and the Bruins didn’t take Subban to simply bury him in the system forever. He’s not going to step in and take Rask’s job right now or anything, but we’re getting to the point where he could be pushing for the No. 2 role soon. And a reliable backup that could help keep Rask fresh for the duration of the season would do wonders for Boston’s situation between the pipes.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
David Krejci ($7.25 million)
He may not be the single most valuable player on the roster (Bergeron is still in town), but it’s tough to argue with Krejci’s contributions. He routinely hovers near the team lead in assists, and showed no signs of slowing down last year — notching 63 points.
2017 UFA TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Marchand may as well be the president of the player-you-hate-unless-he’s-on-your-team-and-then-you-love-him club. Does he play an edgy game? Yes. Does he cross the line sometimes? Absolutely. Is he an instigator? There might not be a better word to describe him, actually.
He also just capped off a 37-goal season though, which was good for sixth place in the entire NHL. That’s more tallies than Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry and John Tavares had — just to name a few. Would Marchand go before those guys if the league held a redraft tomorrow? No. But the fact that he scored enough last year to be listed among them is a pretty good reminder that he’s more than just an agitator that runs around the ice making everyone on the other team angry.
Even though he just turned 20 in May, Pastrnak already has 97 games of NHL experience — not to mention 53 points — on his resume. If he can build on last year’s 15-goal effort, it would be a huge boost for a Boston club that isn’t exactly loaded with scoring wingers at the moment, especially after the departure of Loui Eriksson this summer.